Dome of the Rock: A Masterpiece of Islamic Architecture
The Dome of the Rock (Qubbat as-Sakhrah) is a masterpiece of early Muslim societies, which played an essential role in the evolution of the architectural vocabulary of Islamic architecture. The Dome of the Rock was built by the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik between 688 and 690 AD in the center of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In Muslim societies Temple Mount is known as Al-Haram El-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary). Temple Mount is a large open space platform, which accommodates the congregational mosque of al-Aqsa, Dome of the Rock mosque and many other memorial buildings. The Dome of the Rock was not intended to be a mosque, but a Muslim shrine, similar to the Ka'ba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. It was built to cover a sacred rock, which represents a piece of symbolism for Muslim societies.
Dome of the Rock (688-690)
From the late Middle Ages, the construction of the Dome of the Rock is a controversial issue because of its site. The location is believed to be the place where the first Jewish Temple of Solomon was built, as well as the sacred rock itself was perceived as the place where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. Nowadays, the sacred rock is believed to be the place from which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) ascended into heaven during his Night Journey to heaven.
Mount Temple: Solomon Temple, Al-Aqsa Mosqe, and the Dome of the Rock
The mosque was designed by a Byzantine-training architect and built by Syrian master-builders. It has an octagon shape with 54 meters in diameter and a cupola rises to a height of 36 meters. The plan of the mosque is octagon and comprises four portals facing the four cardinal points. There are two porticoes, where Muslims perform their rituals. The outer one is octagonal and runs parallel to the walls of the building. It comprises eight pillars and sixteen columns. The interior portico is circular, having only four pillars and twelve columns. Above the circular arcade rises the high cylindrical drum on which the golden dome rests.
Dome of the Rock: Floor plan
Dome of the Rock: Interior decoration
The interior decoration expresses Byzantine features, such as the coloured marble columns on cube-shaped bases, the Corinthian capitals, and the circular arches. It is also believed that the design of the Dome of the Rock followed the traditions of Byzantine architecture. The octagonal plan is likely to be derived from the plan of the Church of the Ascension in Jerusalem, which has the same octagonal shape but has one portico. Similar to the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Ascension was built to accommodate the rock from which Jesus (pbuh) ascended to heaven following his crucifixion in this location. It is also believed that Jesus’ footprints are stamped in the rock of the church.
Church of the Ascension, Jerusalem: the rock where Prophet Jesus ascended into heaven
The façade of the Dome of the Rock featured a Syrian building system influence, where the dome was made with two wooden frames; one inside the other to allow a light structure and provide heat insulation. The exterior mosaics of the Dome of the Rock were deteriorated, but it was repaired during the Mamluk period. In 1545, Suleyman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Sultan, covered the exterior walls with blue mosaic and ceramic tiles. The walls and arcades were also adorned with inscription from the Koran. In 1956, the Dome of the Rock had undergone a major restoration. Today, the Dome of the Rock is considered as the oldest surviving Islamic monument and represents the crowning glory of Islamic architecture.
Dome of the Rock: Exterior Decoration with inscriptions from the Koran
Dome of the Rock: Cross section along East-West axis
1. Oleg Grabar and Nuseibeh Said, The Dome of the Rock. New York, 1996.
2. John D. Hoag, Islamic Architecture. New York, 1977.